The Dorothy and Sam Dean Nature Sanctuary is dedicated to the preservation of the natural flora and fauna of the Oak Brook area.  The beautiful 40 acres of this property will remain in a natural state.   An abundance of wildlife can be viewed including deer, fox, raccoons, possum and turtles.  What is especially unique is the variety of ecosystems; wetlands, forest, pond and prairie existing in close proximity.  We hope this brief history of the Dean family and of this property will add enjoyment to your visit!

In an interview with Mrs. Dorothy Dean in 1995, she provided a history of the Dean family and the property.

Mrs. Dean was born in a small farm town, Byrd, Illinois. She moved to the Hinsdale area when she was 10 years old. Sam Dean was born and raised in Hinsdale. They met while they both attended Hinsdale Central High School. Sam Dean was the son of Samuel E Dean, who founded Dean Evaporated Milk Co, in Chicago, 1925.  Sam Dean, Jr. became the president and chief executive officer of Dean Milk Co, now known as Dean Foods. 

Dorothy and Sam purchased the 40 acre property in 1939. Prior to their ownership, the site was a farm where cattle and horses were bred along with hay, oats and alfalfa. Mrs. Dean said the original three-story barn and silo were torn down and the lumber was reused to construct their home and stables.  The original farm house was moved and is presently at 405 Canterberry Lane. The foundation for the silo remains just south of the house. Mrs. Dean also said that the name of the street “Canterberry Lane” was chosen because people used to ride their horses and pick berries that grew at the end of the lane.

I-294 Construction

In the 1950s when the construction of I-294 Tri-State Tollway began, the Toll Authority received permission to remove clay from the Dean’s property for construction purposes. In exchange for the clay, the construction company dug and built the pond located north of the main house. The Dean’s also persuaded the Tollway Authority to place a separate path under the toll road’s bridge over Salt Creek. The path has direct access to the Bemis Woods Forest Preserve sites and the bicycle trails.

Active in Oak Brook’s Early Days

Mr. and Mrs. Dean were very active in both the social and political life of Oak Brook. The Dean’s were very involved in the creation of the village and Mr. Dean held a number of official positions, including village president, through the years. In honor of Mr. Dean’s service to the community, the main auditorium in the village hall where the village trustees meet is named after him. They were active supporters of the Republican Party and hosted many parties and fundraisers on the property. The Senators Edward Dirksen and Charles Percy were frequent guests. Senator Dirksen once came and landed in a helicopter on the property. 

Dorothy Dean was co-founder of the Oak Brook Woman’s Republican Club and the Cultural Guild of the College of DuPage.  She was also a member of the Oak Brook Historical Society and Civic Association.  Though Dorothy was active in both politics and the arts, her passion was the environment, and that is where she left her most enduring mark, family members say. “She had all kinds of troughs in her back yard filled with feed for the wildlife,” said her nephew, Howard Dean.  You’d look out her kitchen window and see deer, geese, raccoons, and sometimes, even a fox come together at the same time to feast.  It was an exciting thing to watch.”

Later Years

After Mr. Dean’s death in 1976, Mrs. Dean chose to remain on the property which she thoroughly loved. She used to comment that she had no desire to travel in that she had everything she would want to see on her property. The Village of Oak Brook continued to be developed through the years until there was no more property available to build upon. Noting the size and beauty of Mrs. Dean’s home and estate, she began to be approached by developers looking to purchase it. The number of inquiries continued to increase every year.

Not wanting to see the property developed and wishing to keep it for wildlife and open, natural spaces, Mrs. Dean took steps in 1995 to set up a life trust for her property with the assistant of the Conservation Foundation in which the Park District purchased the property. The Conservation Foundation's Life Trust is a legal process for landowners to determine and assure that their property will always remain as open space. The property was transferred in January 2005 to the Oak Brook Park District.

Dorothy Dean died Friday, December 28, 2007.  “Dorothy was a beautiful person both inside and out,” said Brook McDonald, president and chief executive officer of the Conservation Foundation.  “She was warm and caring, with a smile that could just light up the earth.” 

Recent Improvements

In 2009, the Oak Brook Park District completed the ecological restoration of the 40 acres through a grant form the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR).  In recognition of the uniqueness of the Dean Nature Sanctuary and the variety of ecosystems living in very close proximity on the property (oak savannah, wetland, pond and prairie), the IDNR awarded the Oak Brook Park District an OSLAD Grant, (Open Space Land Acquisition and Development,) for the Dean Nature Sanctuary improvements project.  The Project entailed the ecological restoration of the prairie and development of recreational amenities that include the construction of rock fishing platforms, ADA accessible fishing pier on the pond, installation of a canoe launch on the Salt Creek, an education meeting pavilion, walking trails and eco-friendly parking lot.

The Dean Nature Sanctuary walking trails connect with the DuPage County Regional Bikeway trails and also to the Cook County Trails at the Bemis Woods Trails underpass of the IL Toll Road 294, near the eastern property line of the Dean Nature Sanctuary. 

The Dean Nature Sanctuary is located on the Salt Creek, a major tributary to the Des Plaines River watershed, and is part of the Salt Creek Greenway Trail.  The Salt Creek Greenway Trail is designated as a priority greenway in the Northeastern Illinois Regional Greenways Plan and extends through 9 communities with a combined population exceeding 300,000 residents.  The Salt Creek originated some 15,000 years ago from the melt waters of the Wisconsin glaciers.  Pre-historic Native Americans roamed the region over 10,000 years ago leaving archaeological finds of arrows and Clovis points.  More recently, the Pottawatomi occupied the lands around the watershed and used the creek for fishing and as a transportation route.  Although it is called a creek, Salt Creek can technically be classified as a river.  A hundred years ago, maps identified the creek as the "Little Des Plaines." Today it runs some 40 miles connecting Cook and DuPage Counties before joining the Des Plaines River in the Brookfield/Riverside Area. It is one of the most historic, scenic and significant greenways in our region with connections to more than 178 miles of trails in northeastern IL.

The Dean Nature Sanctuary is an important recreational and ecological component in this region. And will forever be a "passive park" meaning the property will not house athletic fields, traditional playgrounds or recreational facilities.

"This is an opportunity that not many communities have," said Tom Truedson, Oak Brook Park District Board Commissioner and personal friend of the Dean family. "Mrs. Dean had the wisdom and the foresight to see that open land is just as important, if not more important, than having it developed. Open space is a finite resource in Oak Brook, so Mrs. Dean's gift has great value in maintaining the natural beauty of the area. In a number of ways it's the end of an era. The Dean's are one of the last of the village's founding families. They were instrumental in the creation of the village as well as creating the mystique of Oak Brook." “We can assure the community that the charm and natural beauty of the property will remain as Mrs. Dean envisioned it," said Commissioner Truedson, “We are all beneficiaries of the wonderful foresight of Dorothy Dean."

Sources: Interview with Dorothy Dean, 1995 Chicago Tribune Obituary Notice, 2008 Salt Creek Greenway Association (www.saltcreekgreenwayassociation.org)